Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
His most recognised poem, 'High Flight' is called the airman’s poem and was written in the months before his death. John had flown a Spitfire for the first time at Llandow and had tested the new Mark V Spitfire capable of reaching 30,000 feet. He was perhaps inspired by those experiences and certainly by similar themes expressed in other poems. In a letter to his mother dated 3rd September 1941 he wrote the poem on the back and said '...it started at 30,000 feet and was finished soon after I landed'
. The poem is known and cherished by civilian and military pilots throughout the world and is frequently quoted on commemorative occasions when inspiration and reflection combine to give solace and comfort, as was the case when President Reagan quoted the poem during his eulogy for the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986. Although the poem is now famous and is inscribed in many locations around the world, there is no memorial in the form of a statue that celebrates John Magee’s artistic achievements and his personal sacrifice that was typical of so many men of his time.